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About this book

Hands-on, practical guide helping academics to reinvigorate their seminar teaching. Ideal for new higher education staff seeking guidance as well as more experienced academics looking for tips and ideas. Covers all elements of seminar-based instruction including encouraging participation, handling sensitive topics and incorporating new technology.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Our handbook addresses the dynamics of seminar-based education. By ‘seminar’, we mean a small group discussion led by an educator in pursuit of learning objectives.1 The seminar contrasts sharply with lecture-based instruction, wherein a member of the academic staff (faculty) attempts to impart knowledge by transmitting it to the students without any opportunity for extended discussion or dialogue.2 Lectures can be effective in conveying information to a large audience — either in person or by means of the web — but they are not the focus of this handbook.3
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

1. The Socratic Method

Abstract
Time exacts a heavy toll on the physical world. All is finite, transient. Stone crumbles. Iron rusts. Wood rots. Ideas and concepts have life spans as well, but some fall into disuse or disrepute. The most powerful ones, however, can exist for a very long time indeed. The Socratic Method, an enduring legacy of ancient Greece, is one such idea.1
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

2. Prepare your seminar for success

Abstract
Preparation timeline
  • Coordinate with Department Head
  • Review departmental objectives
  • Formulate course obiectives
  • Formulate class objectives
  • Select readings
  • Draft and revise syllabus
  • Submit syllabus for approval
  • Check room review class roster
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

3. Introductions and ground rules

Abstract
It is often said that first impressions tend to be the most enduring. Arthur Schopenhauer’s notion that ‘It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us’ is not without merit.
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

4. Create a positive learning cycle

Abstract
Imagine that you have completed the first meeting of your seminar. All seems to have gone well. You said all you had to say, covering the topics outlined in the syllabus for that day. The students were not very responsive, nor were there very many questions asked, but you reassure yourself that that’s all right; this was just the first day of the seminar and most were probably somewhat uncomfortable or unsure of the situation. Seeking to reassure yourself that they will certainly relax and become more engaged as the seminar continues, you begin preparing for the next seminar session.
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

5. Encourage discussion and collaborative learning

Abstract
At this point, your seminar is well under way; you have led one or more sessions, but you are finding that the amount of discussion, especially among students, is less than you had hoped or anticipated. You have a couple of students who seem eager to raise their hands and engage in discussion, but the majority of your students appear reluctant to do so. You are concerned that such limited discussion as you have may even diminish further. What should you do at this point?
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

6. Team teaching challenges

Abstract
Team teaching involves the use of two (or more) faculty members leading a seminar group. Team teaching in the context of inquiry-based learning can be especially rewarding for students and educators alike, but it also presents challenges which require careful preparation to overcome.
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

7. Technology and seminar-based learning

Abstract
The following three scenarios range from using no technology at all to employing internet and interactive slide tools. The question you must ask yourself, however, is which of these options accomplishes your seminar goals in the way you consider to be the most effective.
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

8. Distance learning

Abstract
As we have seen throughout this book, the basic ‘structure’ of a seminar involves a group of students gathering at a single venue where, under the guidance of a seminar leader, ideas are exchanged in verbal discourse. In the past, those wishing to attend and actively participate in a seminar must have been physically present at the seminar venue to do so. Not so anymore.
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

9. End-of-course pitfalls

Abstract
Whether your course lasts a few weeks or several months, one of the ongoing challenges facing you, as the instructor, is that of keeping your participants interested and actively involved throughout the entire duration of the seminar. Not an easy task — and one, that if not successfully addressed, can result in a seminar that, after some time, becomes stagnant, boring and no longer an effective means for learning. As we have already seen, passive students — those not actively engaged in seminar discussions — tend to become detached from the seminar proceedings; a problem that could lead to disinterest and complacency.
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

10. Measure outcomes

Abstract
Let us imagine that you have managed to involve virtually all your students in your early seminar meetings. That is definitely a plus, but it only tells a partial story. The number of students engaging in seminar dialogue is but one of several metrics you should consider in evaluating your seminar.
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes

11. Some final thoughts and suggestions

Abstract
If leading seminars were easy, this book would be neither necessary nor interesting. The fact is, effective seminar leading involves a good deal of sweat equity. Hard work and preparation are essential, especially for instructors who have not had the benefit of learning from positive role models during their formative educational experiences. But it is also richly rewarding for instructors who are willing to learn best practices and apply them in the seminar room.
James H. Anderson, Andrew H. Bellenkes
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